Will Smith Plays Venus And Serena’s Father In ‘King Richard’

(L-R) Demi Singleton, Serena Williams, Will Smith, Venus Williams, Saniyya Sidney, and Aunjanue Ellis attend the closing night premiere of Warner Bros’ ‘King Richard’ at the 2021 AFI Fest at TCL Chinese Theatre on November 14, 2021, in Hollywood, California. PHOTO: Emma McIntyre/Getty Images/AFP

“King Richard” plots the rise of Serena and Venus Williams, from training on crumbling, gang-riddled Compton tennis courts to becoming all-time sporting greats.

The movie could soon cap another unlikely journey, with former “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” star Will Smith tipped to win his first Oscar for best actor, as their larger-than-life father, coach, and manager.

Smith “fell in love with Richard Williams” two decades ago, after watching him leap to 14-year-old daughter Venus’s defense in an interview with an overly insistent journalist.

“The look of Venus’s face… the image burned in my heart,” he told an online press conference. “Because that’s how I wanted my daughter to look when I showed up.”

“I knew I wanted to show a father protecting a daughter like that to the world,” said Smith, who signed on to star and produce in the Warner Bros film.

READ ALSO: Judge Dissolves Singer, Britney Spears’ 13-Year Controversial Guardianship

The film, which had its Los Angeles premiere Sunday during AFI Fest, focuses on how the Williams’ unusual and tight-knit family in an impoverished and mainly Black neighborhood of the same city shaped their future success.

Richard Williams, a self-taught coach, famously wrote a 78-page plan to make Venus and Serena the top players in the world before they were even born, having learned about the lucrative prize money on offer.

Venus — whose seven Grand Slam titles would later be eclipsed by Serena’s 23 — occupies more of the screen time, having paved the way for her younger sister with early wins at junior tournaments.

“I love that Venus opened doors, and her sister just ran through,” Saniyya Sidney, who plays Venus, told AFP.

“She’s so humble, she doesn’t even look at the status, or who’s bigger… being given this opportunity to show the world exactly what Venus did, is so, so important.”

Growing up seeing “girls that look like me are in a sport that is predominantly a white sport… means so much to me,” said Sidney.

 

– ‘Revolutionaries’ –

The film follows Richard’s efforts to find his daughters a professional coach at snooty Californian tennis clubs, and how he was initially met with rejection, ridicule, and racism.

The Williams family would later boycott the prestigious Indian Wells tennis tournament in California for 14 years, after booing that Richard slammed as racist, and which Serena later likened to a “genteel lynch mob.”

Serena, whose fiery temper has left her at loggerheads with officials on occasions, was banned from wearing a “Black Panther”-inspired black catsuit at the French Open in 2018.

“Every time they come on the court, they are these walking revolutionaries,” Aunjanue Ellis, who plays their mother and fellow coach Oracene, told AFP.

“The tennis industry is still to this day trying to police how creative they are, trying to police their genius, and they haven’t been able to do that.”

 

– ‘Lion’ –

For Smith — a father of three — watching Richard Williams protect his daughters all those years ago helped to shape his performance.

“It was like [Venus] had a lion. And she was so confident and so comfortable that her lion wasn’t going to let anything happen to her,” he recalled.

While Venus and Serena, plus two of their half-sisters, are involved with the film, Richard did not participate, and the film’s largely positive portrayal also hints at marital infidelity.

Filmmakers initially planned to put Smith in full prosthetics to closely resemble Williams but eventually relied on the two-time Oscar nominee’s acting to transform audience perceptions.

“He would just slide in to Richard Williams, which has all of that exuberance of Will Smith, but this whole other side of his character — it was startling to see,” said co-star Tony Goldwyn.

Smith is the current bookmakers’ favorite to win the best actor at February’s Oscars, having missed out for his portrayal of boxer Muhammad Ali in “Ali,” and in “The Pursuit of Happyness.”

“King Richard” hits theaters next Friday.

AFP

Five Sports Stars Competing Past 40

 

 

Roger Federer celebrates his 40th birthday on Sunday still hopeful of adding to his 20 Grand Slam titles despite an unconvincing return to the sport following two knee surgeries.

AFP Sport looks at five other stars still competing at an age when many of their contemporaries have long headed for the comfort of an armchair.

 

Tom Brady – 44

The American Football superstar quarterback turned 44 on Tuesday but shows few signs of slowing down. Brady has won seven Super Bowls – six with the New England Patriots and one this year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

He was also the oldest player to be voted MVP in a Super Bowl after the 31-9 win over Kansas City.

“Feeling blessed and ready to go for year 22!!,” Brady tweeted on Wednesday after celebrating his birthday.

Brazil’s midfielder Formiga (L) vies for the ball with Canada’s forward Nichelle Prince during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games women’s quarter-final football match between Canada and Brazil at Miyagi Stadium in Miyagi on July 30, 2021. (Photo by Philip FONG / AFP)

Formiga – 43

Brazilian footballer Formiga has played more than 200 times for her country since making her international debut at 17 in 1995. The midfielder’s club career has taken her from Sao Paulo to Malmo, New Jersey, Paris Saint-Germain and numerous stops in between.

At Tokyo this week, Formiga became the first women’s player to appear in seven Olympics.

“I intend to play football until I am 45. I love it. It will be difficult to stop,” she said in Tokyo where Brazil were eliminated by Canada in the quarter-finals.

Movistar Yamaha MotoGP’s Italian rider Valentino Rossi gestures after taking second place in the qualifying session of Malaysian MotoGP at the Sepang International Circuit on October 29, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / MOHD RASFAN

Valentino Rossi – 42

A nine-time world motorcycling champion with seven of those coming in the premier class, Rossi on Thursday said he will complete this season and then retire after 26 years in the sport.

The charismatic Italian’s last MotoGP world title came back in 2009 and he lost his seat with the factory Yamaha team after a 15th place finish in the truncated 2020 campaign.

This year, he has been riding for the Yamaha satellite team but is currently 19th in the standings.

His dream of equalling Giacomo Agostini’s record of eight premier class world titles will now remain just that.

Venus Williams – 41

The winner of seven Grand Slam singles titles (five at Wimbledon and two at the US Open) and a former world number one. Williams also has 14 women’s doubles titles at the majors and two in mixed.

She was the 2000 Olympic gold medallist in singles and has added three more doubles at the Games alongside sister Serena. Currently ranked at 110 in the world, the last of her 49 singles titles came at Kaohsiung in 2016.

PORT OF SPAIN, TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO – AUGUST 14: Chris Gayle of the West Indies brings up his 50 during the third MyTeam11 ODI between the West Indies and India at the Queen’s Park Oval on August 14, 2019 in Port of Spain, Trinidad And Tobago. (Photo by Ashley Allen)

Chris Gayle – 41

Cricket star Gayle, nicknamed ‘Universe Boss’, has captained the West Indies and has played more international games for the team than any other man.

He is also just one of four batsmen in history to have scored two triple hundreds in Tests and one of only six to have a double century in ODIs.

Still a part of the West Indies T20 squad, Gayle’s skills are usually limited to franchise cricket these days – he has played 437 T20 games and scored over 14,000 runs.

 

Venus Hobbles Out Of Australian Open In Agony

Venus Williams of the US leaves after losing against Italy’s Sara Errani in the women’s singles match on day three of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on February 10, 2021. (Photo by William WEST / AFP)

 

Venus Williams hobbled out of the Australian Open Wednesday after a straight-sets loss to Italian qualifier Sara Errani, departing from her record 21st appearance at Melbourne Park as a disconsolate figure.

The seven-time Grand Slam winner rolled an ankle late in the first set and offered little resistance after that, crashing 6-1, 6-0 in 75 minutes.

“I’m not happy to win like that,” Errani, ranked 134, said. “I’m so sad for her. It isn’t easy playing someone injured.”

Williams, 40, appeared to roll her right ankle mid-point while attempting a volley, down 5-1 in the opening set, screaming in agony and seeking medical attention.

The American had her ankle strapped as she cut a dejected figure, but decided to gamely fight on.

READ ALSO: Djokovic Passes Tiafoe Test, Serena Sublime At Australian Open

Williams, who also had strapping to her left knee reapplied, was noticeably hampered and could barely exert force on serve as the match petered out.

An amazing 27 years after making her professional debut, two-time Australian Open finalist Williams had beaten Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium in the first round.

Errani next plays Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan who upset eighth seed Bianca Andreescu.

Venus Crash Out Of US Open In First Round For First Time

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 01: Venus Williams of the United States returns a volley during her Women’s Singles first-round match against Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic on Day Two of the 2020 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 1, 2020, in the Queens borough of New York City. Matthew Stockman/Getty Images/AFP

 

 

Venus Williams bowed out of the US Open in the first round for the first time in her professional career on Tuesday, losing in straight sets to Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic.

The 40-year-old Williams, making her 22nd appearance at Flushing Meadows in a career that has spanned four decades, was beaten 6-3, 7-5.

It marked Williams’ second consecutive first-round defeat at a Grand Slam event after exiting the Australian Open at the same stage in January.

The seven-time Grand Slam champion has not been past the third round at a Slam event since 2017.

Williams, however, has no plans to hang up her racquet, revealing after her loss that she is already looking ahead to the rescheduled French Open and clay court swing through Europe.

“I love this game,” Williams said. “I’m good at what I do. It’s easy to stay motivated and excited about doing something so amazing.

“Not many people get to do this. Really fortunate and blessed to be someone who has gotten a chance to do it.

“But I look forward to a few days off. It’s been a lot of work. Looking forward to just having a little bit of a rest before the clay courts.”

Muchova — who was only one when Williams was playing in her first US Open final in 1997, where she lost to Martina Hingis — always had the veteran American star on the back foot on Tuesday.

After losing the first set, Williams rallied in the second and opened up a 5-3 lead, seemingly poised to force a third set.

But a string of unforced errors allowed Muchova to roar back into the match and she reeled off four consecutive games to close out the win.

“I think we both served pretty well,” Williams said. “I think I made just more unforced errors than she did.

“Just having some better shot selection. That comes with playing your way into the tournament, those sorts of things. Just ran out of time today.”

Muchova, the 20th seed, will play unseeded Russian Anna Kalinskaya in the second round.

AFP

15-Year-Old Gauff Beats Venus In Australian Open First Round

Coco Gauff of the US hits a return against Venus Williams of the US during their women’s singles match on day one of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 20, 2020.
PHOTO: Manan VATSYAYANA / AFP

 

Fifteen-year-old American Coco Gauff beat Venus Williams at the Australian Open on Monday — the second time the teenager has dumped the veteran out in a Grand Slam first round.

Gauff surged into the second round in Melbourne with a 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 victory over the 39-year-old and will play unseeded Romanian Sorana Cirstea next.

Gauff, ranked 67 in the world and a fast-rising star in tennis, similarly defeated the seven-time Grand Slam winner in the first round last year at Wimbledon.

“That was really difficult, she played really well,” said the precocious teenager.

“I was really nervous for today’s match.

“I was a bit shocked — I’m sure everyone was shocked — when they saw the draw come out but I’m glad I was able to get through it,” Gauff added, referring to the repeat of their Wimbledon match.

Venus Williams of the US hits a return against Coco Gauff of the US during their women’s singles match on day one of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 20, 2020.
PHOTO: Manan VATSYAYANA / AFP

 

Williams, formerly number one but now ranked 55th, conceded the first-set tie break when she hit a routine backhand overhead into the net.

Gauff, remarkably unfazed by playing someone more than twice her age, held her nerve in the second set to claim Williams’ scalp once more.

Victory over Williams at Wimbledon, and her run to the fourth round there — where she lost to eventual champion Simona Halep — propelled Gauff into the sporting limelight.

She went on to win her first WTA title in October in Linz, Austria.

AFP

‘I Can Beat Anyone!’ 15-Year-Old Gauff Boasts As She Wins Another Match

US player Coco Gauff celebrates beating Slovakia’s Magdalena Rybarikova during their women’s singles second round match on the third day of the 2019 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on July 3, 2019. PHOTO: Adrian DENNIS / AFP

 

Coco Gauff, the 15-year-old schoolgirl who stunned five-time champion Venus Williams in the first round, continued her Wimbledon dream debut on Wednesday when she eased into the last 32 and claimed: “I can beat anyone.”

Gauff, ranked 313 in the world, defeated 2017 semi-finalist Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia 6-3, 6-3 in the first match played entirely under the new Court One roof.

She is the youngest player to make the third round since US compatriot Jennifer Capriati went all the way to the semi-finals in 1991.

“I think I can beat anyone. If I don’t think I can win the match then I won’t even step on the court,” she said.

Her confidence is justified.

She has yet to drop a set at the tournament having played five matches, including three in qualifying.

In her two matches in the main draw, she has been broken just once and committed a meagre 18 unforced errors.

Despite that, Gauff insists she is staying grounded in the face of her sudden fame.

She is unwinding by watching YouTube videos of make-up tips while giggling along to online pranks.

Her phone is busy with goodwill messages.

“One is (14-year-old actress) Navia Robinson. My little brother actually watches one of the shows she’s on.

“Storm Reid, another actor, she’s in a new series ‘Euphoria’,” she explained to a generally mystified press corps.

“Surprisingly social media relaxes me before the match. That’s what I do. Not really Instagram so much. I just watch YouTube videos before my match. It gets me in a laughing spirit.”

Despite her nods to everyday teenage past-times, Gauff insists she has a serious streak.

During qualifying, where she played on a wildcard, she needed to complete a high school science exam.

It’s all part of her strong work ethic instilled in her by parents Corey and Candi Gauff, both successful college athletes.

“They just told me, You have another match. The tournament’s not over. Don’t focus too much on what happened. My goal is to win it,” she said.

Practice is also key, even if it means driving herself harder and harder on the courts.

“These last couple weeks, when they say, practice over, I say let’s do one more. Hit the ball harder to me.

“I was telling my training partner Courtney, I need you to hit the ball harder, we need to do more rounds.

“I didn’t know this would happen. Looking back on these few weeks, I can see how maybe that little extra time definitely helped.”

Next up for Gauff is a last 32 clash against world number 60 Polona Hercog of Slovenia on Friday.

AFP

Williams Loses To Teenager Gauff At Wimbledon

US player Cori Gauff celebrates after beating US player Venus Williams during their women’s singles first round match on the first day of the 2019 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on July 1, 2019.
Ben STANSALL / AFP

 

Cori Gauff, at 15 the youngest ever qualifier for the Wimbledon singles, pulled off a major shock on Monday, beating one of her idols five-time champion Venus Williams 6-4, 6-4 in their first-round clash.

The teenage American — who was not even born when Williams had won her first two Wimbledon singles titles — showed not an ounce of fear on Court One, making light of the 24 years age difference.

“I don’t really know how to feel,” said 313-ranked Gauff, who sunk into her chair and cried in the aftermath of her victory.

“This was definitely the first time I ever cried after a match, winning!”

READ ALSO: Wimbledon Champion Djokovic Off To Winning Start

Gauff, who said she took up tennis due to the exploits of Venus and her younger sister Serena, was watched by her family and paid tribute to them.

“I don’t even know what my parents will be saying,” she said.

“I’m just so happy and blessed that they spent all their time on me and my brothers in making sure that we’re successful.

“I never thought this would happen. I’m literally living my dream right now. Not many people get to say that.”

Williams had looked increasingly lost during the encounter, although she did break back in the second set and saved several match points, but sank to her knees by her racquet bag before walking off without waiting for the youngster.

“She (Williams) just told me congratulations and to keep going and good luck,” said Gauff, who won the French Open junior girls title last year.

“I told her thank-you for everything she did.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her.

“I was telling her that she was so inspiring. I always wanted to tell her that.”

AFP

Serena Withdraws From Italian Open With Knee Problem

Serena Williams hopes to make it to the French Open, which starts on May 26.

 

Serena Williams withdrew from the Italian Open on Tuesday with a recurring left knee injury handing sister Venus a walkover into the third round.

In Tuesday’s statement, the 23-time Grand Slam winner insisted she would still be competing in the French Open later this month.

“I must withdraw from the Italian Open due to pain in my left knee,” Serena said in a statement.

“I will miss the fans and competition at one of my favourite tournaments.

“I’ll be concentrating on rehab and look forward to seeing you all at the French Open and next year in Rome.”

The French Open starts on May 26.

Serena’s withdrawal comes a day after she beat Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson in straight sets to set up a second-round meeting with her older sister Venus.

She had been returning after more than two months out with a knee problem, in the final warm-up clay-court tournament before the French Open.

Four-time Rome winner Serena, 37, had eased through 6-4, 6-2 her first round match against Swedish qualifier Petersen.

Serena had also played Petersen in the second round at the Miami Open in March before withdrawing with a knee injury.

Her withdrawal sends Venus Williams, the 1999 winner, through to a third round meeting with either Johanna Konta of Britain or American seventh seed Sloane Stephens.

Serena — now ranked 11th — has completed just eight matches this year, also withdrawing from Indian Wells in March with illness.

There are now doubts that the veteran can add to her tally of Grand Slams, something which has so far proved beyond her since returning last year after taking time out following the birth of her first child.

Her last Grand Slam singles title was won at the Australian Open in 2017, where she was pregnant, breaking a tie with Steffi Graf for the most in the professional era.

Her win in Melbourne moved her one behind Australian Court’s record of 24 major singles titles.

She is a three-time French Open winner, claiming her last title in Roland Garros in 2015.

AFP

Venus Rises To Reach Open Third Round

Venus Williams of the US hits a return against France’s Alize Cornet during their women’s singles match on day four of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne. Greg Wood / AFP

 

Seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams made a late charge into the Australian Open third round Thursday, grinding out a win in her second three-set victory of the tournament.

The unseeded 38-year-old American came back strongly to beat Alize Cornet of France 6-3, 4-6, 6-0, setting up a meeting with top seed Simona Halep.

Williams, who played her first Australian Open in 1998, said she drew energy from the Melbourne Park crowd in the deciding set against world number 36 Cornet.

“The first two sets were so tough and in the second I felt I was controlling the points but just falling a little bit short,” she said.

“So I tried to do the same (in the third set) and not fall a little bit short. It worked out.”

The veteran has reached the final at Melbourne Park twice, most recently in 2017 when she lost to sister Serena.

The siblings could meet again in the quarter-finals if results go their way.

AFP

Venus Wins Three-Set Thriller Against Azarenka

Venus Williams of the US plays the ball to Serena Williams of the US, during the 2018 Mubadala World Tennis Championship match in Abu Dhabi, on December 27, 2018. GIUSEPPE CACACE / AFP

 

The ageless Venus Williams launched her 25th year as a professional by outlasting Victoria Azarenka in a three-set thriller on day two of the WTA Auckland Classic Tuesday.

In the showdown between the two former world number ones, the 38-year-old Williams overcame Azarenka, nine years her junior, 6-3, 1-6, 6-3.

The two hour 10-minute marathon was packed with power and precision, and in the end Azarenka’s nine aces were not enough.

Williams’ superior accuracy in the opening stages gave her the first set, before Azarenka took the second by blasting winners as she moved her opponent from side to side.

In the deciding third set there were two breaks by each player in the first six games before Williams opened a gap to go 5-3 up when Azarenka was wide with a cross-court forehand. The American then served for the match.

“I love my job, I love what I do but tonight was not easy and maybe one of the toughest first rounds I’ve ever played,” Williams said, adding it was what she needed to start the year.

“My goal was to get past the first round, did you see who I had to play, and we need these matches going into the Australian Open,” she said, referring to the year’s first Grand Slam which begins in just under two weeks.

“Now I’m hoping the next round will be fruitful for me.”

Defending champion Julia Goerges coasted through her first match with a 6-0, 6-4 win over Sweden’s Johanna Larsson, while fifth seed Barbora Strycova was forced into a three-set battle to survive Taylor Townsend.

Strycova raced to a 5-1 lead over Townsend before the American lifted her game to force the match to a deciding set in which the Czech prevailed, to win 6-2, 6-7 (5/7), 6-3.

“It was very tough, I thought I was playing well at the beginning and she couldn’t find the court in the first set,” Strycova said.

“But then she started to serve better and with the wind and (her) a lefty, this mix wasn’t good for me and I couldn’t close it up at the end of the second set.”

Fourth seed Petra Martic and injured eighth seed Alison Van Uytvanck both bowed out in the first round.

American Sofia Kenin produced the first upset of the tournament when she knocked out Martic 7-5, 2-6, 6-2.

Van Uytvanck retired with an ankle injury when leading Dutch qualifier Bibiane Schoofs 4-3 in the first set.

Top seed Caroline Wozniacki will make her first appearance on Wednesday after a weather-delayed flight from Florida saw her match against Laura Siegemund of Germany pushed back a day.

AFP

Serena Williams Defeats Her Sister In US Open Clash

Serena Williams (L) of the United States is congratulated by her sister and opponent Venus Williams (R) of the United States following their ladies singles third round match on Day Five of the 2018 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 31, 2018 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. Chris Trotman/Getty Images for USTA/AFP

 

Serena Williams roared through her 30th career meeting with her sister Venus on Friday, booking a US Open fourth-round berth with a 6-1, 6-2 victory.

Serena was all business for the highly anticipated all-Williams clash under the lights on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Despite — or because of — the emotional and tactical challenges of facing Venus, the 23-time Grand Slam champion said the match-up brought out the best tennis she has played since she came back from the birth of her daughter Olympia last September 1.

“Absolutely this was my best match since I returned,” said Serena, who blasted winners off both wings — 34 in all — and fired 10 aces in the 72-minute match.

Both players were subdued on the court. There were no fist-pumps or “Come ons” and when Serena sealed it with a forehand winner the sisters met at the net for a hug and walked to their chairs before Serena acknowledged the crowd with a wave.

“It’s not easy,” she said of facing Venus. “She’s my best friend. She means the world to me. Every time she loses I feel like I do.”

Venus’s seven Grand Slam titles include a victory over Serena in the 2001 US Open final. But Serena has gone on to beat her in seven of eight major finals since then and now owns an 18-12 record over her elder sister.

The third-round encounter marked their earliest meeting in a Grand Slam since Venus beat Serena in the second round of the 1998 Australian Open — the first time they met as professionals.

“It’s not very easy, but it’s a tournament and we all know there’s more to life than just playing each other and playing tennis,” Serena said.

Not even a brief injury scare could slow Serena. She rolled her right ankle in the second game, taking a medical time out to have more tape added to the bandage she was already wearing under her sock at the next changeover.

There was no sign she was affected as she broke Venus for a 3-1 lead and she pocketed the first set after 31 minutes with a love game punctuated by her fourth ace.

Venus had four game points in the previous game before she was broken to trail 5-1.

The second set was more of the same. Serena quickly gained the upper hand with a break in the opening game and broke Venus at love for a 4-1 lead.

Perhaps the first sign of nerves showed in two double faults in the final game — including one on her first match point.

But she followed each with an ace as she set up a clash with Estonian Kaia Kanepi for a place in the quarter-finals.

Kanepi, who toppled world number one Simona Halep in the first round, defeated Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson 6-3, 7-6 (7/3).

AFP

Halep Doubles Up By Crushing Venus In Straight Sets

Halep Doubles Up By Crushing Venus In Straight Sets
(File) Romania’s Simona Halep returns the ball at The Roland Garros 2018 French Open tennis tournament in Paris on May 30, 2018. Eric FEFERBERG / AFP

 

World number one Simona Halep crushed seven-time Grand Slam winner Venus Williams in straight sets on Thursday at the WTA Montreal event just hours after a delivering a marathon three-hour victory over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

Top seed Halep took no prisoners against Williams, blitzing the 38-year-old American 6-2, 6-2 in just 71 minutes to reach the quarter-finals.

Halep’s match against Pavlyuchenkova was originally scheduled for Wednesday night but heavy rains forced organizers to postpone it until Thursday morning.

The Romanian needed three gruelling sets to oust the world No. 28 Russian but had a much easier time against veteran Williams who has yet to win a title in 2018.

Williams has struggled with her form this year and hasn’t won a Grand Slam title since Wimbledon in 2008 when she beat sister Serena in the final.

“It’s never easy to play either of the Williams sisters, and even though she was struggling, I knew I had to be focused on every ball, and stay focused until the end,” Halep said.

“She wasn’t feeling great on the court and it definitely wasn’t her best day. And I’m happy to be the quarter-finals now.”

The reigning French Open champion started quickly, winning the first two games en route to taking the opening set.

She also jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second set and after a slight lull in the middle, she rebounded to run away with the final four games.

Halep won 77 percent of her first serve points and broke Williams’ serve five times.

Halep next faces number six seed Caroline Garcia, who overwhelmed former World No.1 Maria Sharapova hours earlier.

Halep and Garcia met in the quarter-finals of this event last year when it was held in Toronto with Halep coming out the winner 6-4, 6-2.

Halep leads Garcia in their career head-to-head 4-1 as Garcia’s only career win over Halep was a 6-4, 7-6 (7/3) victory in the final of the WTA Beijing tournament in October.

Williams also has to play twice in one day after Wednesday’s rain-lashed programme.

The veteran 13th-seeded American moved into a clash against Halep with a 7-6 (7/4), 6-4 victory against Romania’s Sorana Cirstea.

Williams won despite committing 30 unforced errors and seven double faults.

Aryna Sabalenka staged one of the biggest wins of her career, saving three match points en route to a 5-7, 6-2, 7-6 (7/4) upset of second seed Caroline Wozniacki.

The 20-year-old saved three match points at 3-5 in the third set —  winning a backhand rally on the first, acing Wozniacki on the second, and crushing a winner that was set up by a big serve on the third.

– Three match points –

“I didn’t win any of the match points,” Wozniacki said. “I had an opportunity. I didn’t get it.”

US Open champion Sloane Stephens reached the quarter-finals with a rollercoaster 6-2, 7-5 win over Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro.

Third seed Stephens, building up to the start of the defence of her maiden Grand Slam title in New York later this month, squandered three match points at 5-1 in the second set.

That setback allowed Suarez Navarro to battle back to 5-5 before the American steadied herself to claim a third win in three meetings against the Spaniard after 90 minutes on court.

Stephens hit 34 winners to the qualifier’s 13 and goes on to face Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia who beat German 10th seed Julia Goerges 6-3, 7-6 (7/2).

Australian 15th seed Ashleigh Barty also made the quarter-finals by seeing off Alize Cornet of France 7-6 (7/3), 6-4.

Cornet had knocked out Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber in the second round on Wednesday.

Britain’s Johanna Konta saw off two-time Grand Slam champion and former world number one Victoria Azarenka, 6-3, 6-1, to move into the third round in a tie held over from Wednesday due to rain.

Konta returned to the court later Thursday and beat fifth seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine 6-3, 6-4 for a place in the last-eight.

AFP